Europêche: Control rule puts EU tuna fleet at risk

Published on
July 15, 2022
A dock in Europe featuring multiple tuna fishing vessels.

The current E.U. control rule on margin of tolerance is incompatible with the conditions and specificities inherent to fishing operations in the tropical tuna purse seine fishery, the Association of National Organizations of Fishing Enterprises in the E.U. (Europêche) has warned.

For several months, ANABAC (National Association of Tuna Freezer Vessel Shipowners), OPAGAC (Organización de Productores Asociados de Grandes Atuneros Congeladores), and ORTHONGEL (Organisation des Producteurs de Thon Congele et Surgele) – representing the European distant-water fleet fishing tropical tunas – have alerted E.U. authorities that it is impossible for them to comply with the control regulation on margin of tolerance, a rule that imposes there is a difference of no more than 10 percent per species between the estimates on board and the actual landed catches.

The groups argued that operating under temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius afford skippers just a few minutes to sort and freeze their catches before the tuna become unfit for human consumption. They also explained that similar target tuna species cannot be easily distinguished from each other in such a short time. In this regard, the groups said that technological solutions are being studied by the fleet, but the solutions will take several years to develop.

The tropical tuna fleet has therefore requested to be able to apply the 10 percent margin of tolerance not per species, but for the whole catch on board, Europêche Tuna Group Director Anne-France Mattlet noted.

She said that while the European Parliament has adopted a position that takes into account the specificities of the fishing operations in the purse seine fishery, the European Commission refuses to bring any flexibility to the rule, and that as a consequence, ships and skippers are being sanctioned again and again, accumulating points on their licenses.

“This will unequivocally lead to the suspension of the fishing licenses and the immobilization of E.U. vessels. On the meanwhile, non-E.U. vessels will keep fishing since they are not subject to the same control, environmental, health and social rules. Some non-E.U. countries do not even apply the catch limits decided at international level,” Mattlet said.

ORTHONGEL, representing the French tuna purse seine fleet, commissioned independent economic analysis to evaluate the socio-economic consequences of the sanctions. This determined that if nothing changes, by 2026, the weight of the sanctions on the turnover will be so unbearable that shipowners and 1,600 jobs will disappear.

Mattlet said the situation might be even worse since the study did not consider the increasing costs of fuel nor the deficit accumulated during COVID.

“Even during these crisis periods, E.U. tuna vessels kept fishing without being able to generate profit to supply canning factories and maintain employment,” Mattlet said.

According to Europêche, these conclusions are equally valid for the Spanish fleet.

It warned that the jobs of over 2,500 fishers are “hanging on by a thread” since Spain is currently applying heavy sanctions that are forcing many of their units to stop for over two months in port.

This is a direct effect of the impossibility for the E.U. tropical tuna distant-water fleet to apply this rule, it said.

Photo courtesy of Europêche

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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